<b>Kingsford Smith Memorial Park and Wadi Shaifa, Katoomba</b>
The park sits in a natural gully amphitheatre near Katoomba railway station, bounded by Gang-Gang Street, Lurline Street and William Street. It covers portions 52 and 53 of land originally granted to James Henry Neal in 1877-78.
Until the park was acquired by Blue Mountains City Council in 1921, it was known as Hudson’s Gully or Hudson’s Park, from the family who had owned most of the land. Their nearby home, Wadi Shaifa, overlooks the park at 2 Lurline Street.
May or Mary Davidson Talbot married Ernest Alfred Knight Hudson in Sydney in1900. Their children Kenneth, Cyril, Laurence and daughter Dorothy, were all born in Petersham, their son Roy may have been born in Katoomba after 1912. The familymoved to Katoomba around 1910, acquired part of portion 52 in 1914 and had built the house by 1916. The rate book entry for that year shows the value of the house to be ₤2,100.
Ernest purchased the bankrupt emporium business of Mullaney & Co. in Main Street and soon became known as a live-wire and a fighting force in the Bowling Club, the Jockey Club, the Rifle Club, the School of Arts, the Show Society and other posts, the business however failed to prosper. He had formerly held the rank of Captain in the NSW Lancers and in 1915 re-enlisted in the ANZAC Mounted division, and with his horse Tango, served in Egypt and Palestine in WW1. In 1917, he was posted to Divisional HQ with the rank of Major. Henry Gullett described him in the official war history as “the most effective supply officer in adverse circumstances in all Palestine”, he was decorated DSO and mentioned in despatches three times, he died in Palestine of Pneumonia in 1918.
The name Wadi Shaifa commemorates a battle in Egypt about 150 km west of El Alamein described in The War Effort of New Zealand, by W S Austin 1923. The Light Horse was there, with the Kiwis, the Sikhs and the Scots, so perhaps Ernie Hudson was too:
"Major-General Wallace transferred his headquarters from Alexandria to Matruh on December 7th, 1915, and four days later had his first encounter with the Senussi forces. From five to six miles south of Matruh is a tableland some 300 feet high, dropping to the coastal strip in a steep escarpment. The outline of the plateau is irregular, and ten miles to the west of Matruh, it is only two miles from the sea. Intersecting the escarpment at right angles are numerous ancient watercourses, steep, dry and rocky, and in some cases miles in length. In one or other of these wadis, as they are called, the enemy would establish a temporary stronghold. He had been located at Wadi Senaab, eight miles to the westward, and on December 11th, a column moved out to attack him. The Yeomanry, aided by a squadron of Australian Light Horse, inflicted over 100 casualties and cleared the wadi. The force, which included the Sikhs, camped on the ground won. Being reinforced by the Royal Scots, the column started again on the 13th for a spot 12 miles farther west to engage the enemy, but in crossing Wadi Shaifa was itself attacked by a force of 1,200, with artillery and machine-guns. The enemy was defeated, however, leaving 180 dead, and was pursued until dark, when the column returned to Matruh."
Following her husband's death, Mrs Hudson ran Wadi Shaifa as flats from the 1920s through the 1950s; she died in 1968 aged 88. It still operates as flats today. One of the flats was sold in 2009 for $260,000.
<b>Kingsford Smith Park</b>
Hudson’s Gully was in effect the front garden of Wadi Shaifa when Katoomba Council resumed the land in 1935. After removal of the blackberries and rubbish, it was landscaped according to a plan drawn up a Mr Kerr of the Sydney Botanical Gardens. The labour force was composed of men on unemployment relief. The stone for the many retaining walls was carted in from the surrounding bushland.
The first name given to the park in 1935 was Jubilee Park, for the Silver Jubilee of King George V. This however was changed only a year later to Kingsford Smith Memorial Park and Playground, in honour of the pioneer Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935). In 1928, Kingsford Smith, in the aircraft Southern Cross, with co-pilot Charles Ulm, Harry Lyon and James Warner, had made the first trans-pacific flight from San Francisco to Brisbane, with refuelling stops at Hawaii and Fiji. Leaving Oakland Field on 31 May, they crossed the Australian coast over Ballina at dawn on 8 June and turned north following the coastline to Brisbane to refuel. They then flew south to Sydney on the same day, where they were welcomed at Mascot airport by a crowd of 300,000 people. Smith and Ulm had spent over 83 hours in the air in an open cockpit, lashed by storms, without sleep and deafened by the engine noise. On 8 November 1935, Smithy, at the age of only 38, disappeared over the Bay of Bengal while making an attempt on the England-Australia speed record, only the nose wheel of his plane was ever recovered.
On 7 March 1938, Lord Wakehurst, Governor of NSW, dedicated the entrance pavilion with a slate plaque, the lintel bearing the words Kingsford Smith Memorial Park. This was topped with a hemispherical metal dome showing a relief map of Australia, with a two foot scale model of Southern Cross, constructed by Mr Evan Cork of Randwick, mounted above it . In 1939 Katoomba Council constructed the band rotunda and public lavatories at a cost of ₤329 in time for the official opening on 1 January 1940 by the Hon. L. O. Martin, KCMG, Minister for Works and Local Government, a brass plaque on the pavilion commemorates this.
The park is one of many memorials to this courageous pioneer aviator, an unparalleled breaker of long-distance records, a trailblazer and remarkable visionary, and a man whose party trick, after playing the ukulele, was to drink a glass of beer while standing on his head.
The inaugural Carols by Candlelight was held 8.00 pm to midnight on Christmas Eve 1947, under the auspices of radio station 2GB with proceeds going to Blue Mountains Hospital. By then the park had an ornamental pond and a children’s playground.
Over the next 40 years, the park gradually fell into disuse and disrepair until local residents began to lobby Council to fund improvements and maintenance. In July 1987 high winds tore the dome from its base on the entry pavilion, it was repaired and replaced in December. At the same time an aluminium sheet profile of Southern Cross replaced the scale model, which had been vandalised and removed some years earlier.
In 1991 a friends group was formed and a Carnivale and parade were staged. Restoration of the gardens and rotunda was commenced in 1993, and since the inception of the Winter Magic Festival in 1994 and the Blue Mountains Music Festival in 1996, it has regained much of its earlier popularity as a music venue and picnic spot, weather permitting.
In 1998, a landslip caused by a leaking water main resulted in extensive damage, and a $300,000 repair bill. Around this time, there were also numerous complaints from nearby residents of anti-social behaviour and drug dealing in the park, which were addressed with tree and foliage thinning, security lighting and police patrols.
In 2001 the entry pavilion became unstable and was dismantled and re-erected on new foundations and reinforced pillars with a rebuilt retaining wall.
Kingsford Smith Park is one of three aviator memorials in Katoomba, the others being Bert Hinkler Park in Lurline Street and Melrose Park in north Katoomba, named 1936. Charles James Melrose (1913-1936) was the only solo flyer to finish the 1934 Melbourne Centenary Air Race and assisted in the air search for Kingsford Smith in 1935. He died in an air crash when his plane went down on a flight from Sydney to Darwin, he was 22 years old.
(c) John Merriman
Local Studies Librarian, Blue Mountains City Library 2009
Format: B&W photograph, a four frame stitch in Photoshop CS3 from original prints donated by Colin Slade.
Photo notes: The entry pavilion, top right, is shown under construction for the opening in March 1938. Wadi Shaifa is the large white building top centre below Lurline Street. The Metropole Hotel sits on the corner of Lurline Street and Gang Gang Street top right. The Carrington chimney is visible on the skyline behind the Savoy Theatre.
Licensing: Attribution, non-commercial, share alike, creative commons. If you use this image in any way, you should attribute it to Blue Mountains City Library. Resale or any other commercial use is prohibited without our express permission. These same restrictions apply to secondary users.
Repository: Blue Mountains City Library <a href="http://www.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/library/" rel="nofollow">www.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/library/</a>
Part of: Local Studies Collection PF4070
Provenance: Colin Slade